Cooper Hewitt Names National Design Award Winners

Graphic Designer Cheryl Miller Is Design Visionary

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum has announced the winners of the 2021 National Design Awards. The 22nd class of winners are being honored for design innovation and impact in nine categories. In October, National Design Month programming will highlight the work of the winners and celebrate the power of design in the everyday world.


A close-up view from the interior side of the InVertô Self-Shading Windows shows the position of the individual pieces in active, shading position. Photo: Courtesy of DOSU Studio Architecture


This year’s recipients are:

  • Cheryl D. Miller, Design Visionary
  • InVert Self-Shading Window by Doris Sung, Climate Action
  • Colloqate Design, Emerging Designer
  • Ross Barney Architects, Architecture and Interior Design
  • Imaginary Forces, Communication Design
  • Behnaz Farahi, Digital Design
  • Becca McCharen-Tran, Fashion Design
  • Studio-MLA, Landscape Architecture
  • BioLite, Product Design


Colloqate Design, Claiborne Cultural Innovations District, a plan for a 19-block transformation of space beneath the elevated I-10 expressway along Claiborne Avenue and created for the nearby residents of the Claiborne Corridor (New Orleans, Louisiana, 2017). Photo: Courtesy of Colloqate Design


Graphic designer Cheryl D. Miller, best known for her advocacy on racial, cultural, and gender equity, diversity, and inclusion, has been named Design Visionary. An accomplished, award-winning designer and businesswoman, Miller established one of the first Black women-owned design firms in New York City in 1984. Cheryl D. Miller Design, serviced corporate communications to a Fortune 500 clientele, including BET, Chase, Philip Morris USA, Time Inc., and Sports Illustrated, as well as nonprofit African American organizations that grew out of the Civil Rights Movement. Miller’s seminal 1987 article, “Black Designers Missing in Action,” laid the groundwork for her advocacy, followed by “Embracing Cultural Diversity in Design” in 1990, “Black Designers: Still Missing In Action?” in 2016, and “Black Designers Forward in Action” in 2020. Miller lectures widely. Her work and archives were acquired by Stanford University Libraries in 2018. Miller is the AIGA Medalist 2021.

And of special interest to graphic designers, Imaginary Forces is the 2021 Communications Design winner. The studio specializes  in design-based visual storytelling. Led by Peter Frankfurt, Chip Houghton, Karin Fong, Tosh Kodama, Alan Williams, Ronnie Koff, Anthony Gibbs, and Grant Lau, Imaginary Forces takes its name from the prologue of Shakespeare’s Henry V, where the narrator summons us to imagine the humble stage as a grand battlefield. For 25 years, the studio has been known for designing iconic title sequences including for Marvel, Mad MenBoardwalk Empire, and Stranger Things, and has brought motion design into the worlds of advertising, architecture, gaming, and documentary film production.


Imaginary Forces, Marvel Studios Logo Design, an iconic opening sequence for Marvel films was designed first in 2002, then again in 2013 as Marvel became a full-fledged studio (2002; 2013). Photo: Courtesy of Imaginary Forces


First Lady Jill Biden serves as the Honorary Patron for this year’s National Design Awards. Established in 2000 as a project of the White House Millennium Council, the National Design Awards bring national recognition to the ways in which design enriches every day life. “The 2021 National Design Award winners challenge the boundaries of their fields – from community and future-focused to socially responsible design – these designers fill us with an optimism for the future by demonstrating the transformative capacity of design,” said Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar, interim director of the museum. “We invite all to join us during Cooper Hewitt’s National Design Month programming to make the most of the rich opportunities to celebrate this amazing cohort of award winners and learn about their paths, passions, processes and bodies of work.”